A Statistic Most People Overlook

When applicants and/or parents create a college list, there is always one statistic that is far-too-often overlooked: four-year graduation rate.

What do I mean by that? How long it takes for a student to graduate in four years. You might be thinking “Surely, that would be near 100% so what more is there to discuss?”. Well, many schools fall far below that 100% 4-year rate. In fact, some schools do not even have a 100% 6-year graduation rate, nor 8-year. Let’s start with some statistics – taken from the following institutions’ publicly-available common data set.

In the 2019-2020 school year:

Institution 4-Year Graduation Rate
Stanford 75.00%
University of Chicago 90.00%
MIT 84.00%
Columbia 85.00%
University of Pennsylvania 85.00%

As you can see, even top-ranked and highly respected universities do not have 100% 4-year graduation rates nor even 95%+. Shocked? Most parents are when we show them this. Stanford, for instance, had 25% of their students take longer than 4 years to graduate.

Why does this happen?

Having a 4-year graduation rate below 100% is not surprising at all – in fact, it’s expected. Not all students earn their degree – they may attend the university then transfer out or never get around to completing their degree. Another interesting statistic to look at regarding this is the freshman retention rate – a.k.a. if students continue onto their second year at that college.

Another major reason for low graduation rates is class availability. Why does Stanford only have 75% of their students graduate “on-time”? Most of this can be attributed to too many students and not enough class availability. In many colleges, certain sequences of courses must be taken in a certain order and are only offered in one semester. If the student misses that class or fails it, they cannot retake it until the next year.

This is why planning for your courses in advance is so important. Additionally, going into college with some credit from AP, IB, or outside community college courses can allow you to register for classes earlier.

Why Should I Care?

If you take five years to graduate, guess what – that means a whole extra year of tuition + fees to pay! Looking at colleges’ four-year rates is a fantastic way to gauge course availability and/or school climate. Once again, freshman retention rate is also a great indicator of student happiness. After all, students who are happy at the college are more likely to stay at the college in their second year.

At Lizard, we help students plan their courses and provide families with this data so that they may make informed decisions.

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